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Report: Employers Turn to Partnerships to Develop Employees' Skills

A group of business people sitting around a table in a meeting room.

​More than half of Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) members responding to a recent survey said they partner with other employers, local colleges, and community and industry groups to recruit, train and develop future and current employees.  

SHRM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation surveyed 1,343 SHRM members from Dec. 3, 2020, to Jan. 21 on the investments they've made in employee training and their plans for worker development in the future. The two groups presented their findings in a report, The Training & Development Landscape: Exploring Employer Investment, Challenges and Innovation in Talent Development, on May 26 during a virtual event.

"Even in a time of significant economic and labor market volatility, employers have maintained their investment in and commitment to their workers—with many eager to increase it," said Jason A. Tyszko, vice president of the U.S. Chamber Foundation's Center for Education and Workforce, in a news statement.

Recruitment is the biggest draw for forming strategic partnerships (cited by 37 percent of respondents), followed by:

  • 28 percent who collaborate on skill-based training and development such as certification programs and formal mentoring.
  • 21 percent who collaborate on paid work-based learning such as internships and apprenticeships, although only 9 percent of those surveyed offered apprenticeships.

Only 9 percent of HR professionals said their organization partners with others to make training more cost-friendly for workers. That includes offering student loan repayment programs and upfront tuition payment. Budgetary restraints were the main reason employers said they don't provide tuition assistance.

However, given the importance of upskilling, "this could be a place to grow these partnerships," said SHRM researcher Kerri Nelson, who presented the findings.

The report underscores a need for continued investment in talent, innovation and public-private partnerships, noted SHRM Chief Knowledge Officer Alex Alonso, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, in a release announcing the report.

"Enterprises can't do this alone—collaboration between HR and business leaders will be essential in the days and months ahead," he said.

Creative Collaborations 

SHRM research also revealed innovative ways employers are partnering to make training more accessible.

Among small employers (one to 99 employees), one organization in the construction industry works with some of its subcontractors to offer specific learning opportunities, such as fire extinguisher and confined-space training.

Another small organization in the retail trade industry collaborates with members of its local Business Resource Network to identify training needs and solutions. And a small business in the hospitality, food and leisure industry partners with a nearby theme park to train and share seasonal employees.

A medium-size employer (100-499 employees) in the health care and social assistance industry teams up with nonprofits to reskill or upskill people from the Latino and Black communities. A similar-size employer in the same sector works with others to create and share trainers, facilities and resources.

A medium-size manufacturer reported donating machines to local colleges to assist with a training program for that particular industry, with an eye toward developing a future talent pool.

"Innovation may be easier than employers think," Nelson pointed out. 

The ability to access information or expertise is the top reason employers collaborate on skills development, cited by 47 percent, followed by the ability to raise the quality of talent in their given industry (37 percent).

The main reason some don't collaborate with others is they don't know where or how to find these partnerships, Nelson explained. That was the top reason cited by 31 percent of medium-size employers and 29 percent of small employers.

Almost one-fourth of HR professionals—mostly at large organizations with 500 to 25,000 employees—said they don't have partnerships because they think they have enough resources on their own, Nelson said.

The data she shared is among 1 of 5 key findings in the report. Among those other findings:

  • Most employers—typically medium and large employers—are maintaining their training budget for 2021.

"Employers are at least prioritizing, or understanding, the value [of skills development programs] and not necessarily looking to cut them," Nelson said, noting that 20 percent of employers plan to increase their training budget.

  • Employers are open to innovation across all types of training, such as adding subscriptions to an online learning platform, creating an in-house "university" with proprietary curricula and partnering with LinkedIn. 
  • Many respondents would like government agencies to assist with talent investment—providing a forum or directory where employers can find others interested in collaborating, for example, or offering tax credits as an employer incentive.
  • Employers see a need for shared public-private leadership to promote more employer collaboration.

Among respondents, 79 percent were at small and medium-size employers, and 62 percent operate in more than one location. A wide range of industries was represented.



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